“We Writers are the Most Lily-Livered of All Craftsmen”

My dear old dad bought me a copy of “If You Want to Write” by Brenda Ueland.  Again, as I suggested in the last post, you should read this book, if you want to write.  I’ve already come across an interesting quote from the first chapter:

“And then there is that American pastime known as ‘kidding’ – with the result that everyone is ashamed to show the slightest enthusiasm or passion or sincere feeling about anything.”

Ueland wrote her book back in the 1930s, but this is a prevalent dynamic.  I know that I personally have beat down others’ ideas or stories because I felt uncomfortable…not because of what was said or written, but because of who had said or written it.  Often this has been with siblings, but sometimes I have sneered at friends’ efforts as well.  Shame on me.  I’m not the only person like this though.  I often stifle thoughts because of past experiences of others “kidding” with me.  Mocking and laughing and pointing of fingers and all that.  I write fantasy, I read fantasy, it’s an easy target, and I’m still shy to express how much it fascinates me.

However, I don’t think that criticism is evil or should be muted.  I think most people nowadays (myself included) are big sissies when it comes to hearing critique.  Ueland notes this as well:

“Of course, in fairness, I must remind you that we writers are the most lily-livered of all craftsmen.  We expect more for the most peewee efforts than any other people.”

Again, agreed.  The problem in both contexts is the individual, and it always will be the individual’s fault.  If someone has the courage to share their thought or piece of writing, respond to them kindly.  Don’t lie, don’t tell them it’s wonderful if you think it stinks.  Be honest, above all.  But don’t “kid”, don’t jeer just because you’re surprised that they’ve written.  However unexpected it may be.  You can have an interesting conversation if you’ll go ahead and open up as well.  There’s a great chance that you can encourage the positive things in whatever they’ve expressed.

In the second context, it’s up to the individual to listen.  Take advice or leave it.  It’s your choice to either wilt in insecurity or discern the other’s opinion.  He who hates instruction is stupid, but he who loves knowledge loves wisdom, as the old proverb goes.  Maybe your friend gives lame criticisms, maybe they’re the person from the first scenario, but you don’t have to piddle away, holding back tears.  Listen, respond honestly, enjoy the unfolding conversations.

Stop gluing your self-worth to what you’ve written, or to others’ opinions of you.  The sun will rise and set just the same.
You’ll never grow or become better if you never share, or make a habit of shoving away what others’ share.


About Forrester Lybrand

I'm a poet and author. I create good fiction and good fantasy.
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4 Responses to “We Writers are the Most Lily-Livered of All Craftsmen”

  1. Jake Ritter says:

    This would’ve been a great place to sarcastically mock you, but I’m going to refrain and be honest: Good post, Forrest. I agree. And as a critic of beginner writers, I have to be very careful to give hard critique while encouraging them to keep at it.

  2. lukevanley says:

    I like this as well! I also like how the lesson on critiquing can apply not only in writing, but in just about everything we do! Not only in critiquing positively, but not getting upset for angry if someone says your content isn’t the best. I like it man!

  3. fredlybrand says:

    Muy Bien!

    You Are Not What You Write
    – Secret #7 from The Writing Course http://www.advanced-writing-resources.com

    Here’s your best line:

    I think most people nowadays (myself included) are big sissies when it comes to hearing critique.



  4. holmeslybrand says:

    Agreed; thanks for the encouragement!

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